Friday, 22 June 2018

Why wait for the future?

Drastic measures have been applied in various countries, to try and control the flow of unofficial (“illegal”) migration from the poorer countries into the richer ones. In one country, children have even been taken from their parents as families were caught entering without permits. In another country, rescue boats have been refused permission to dock with the migrants they carry. But there seems to be no real attempt at solving the causes of this problem. In some countries, it is wars, that the rest of us allow to continue. However, in many cases, it is that people live in countries where living standards are so much lower than others. Why are not we, humanity, working for the development of all countries of the world? If the standard of living was being raised, and the morale in the poorer countries raised with it, the flow of desperate and hopeful people would cease.

In July, 2017, I ran a guest posting by my daughter, Helena, which was entitled “Helping those who want to help themselves”. It explained how BASED-UK – (the Bahá’í Agency for Social and Economic Development) – raises funds to help projects run by local people in poorer countries, but where extra financing is required. It states in the Bahá’í Writings that: “The good pleasure of God consists in the welfare of all the individual members of mankind.” All of the efforts made by Bahá’ís are for the entire community, and not just to benefit Bahá’ís.

Just waiting for the world to change is not enough. We need to initiate and shape that change. And the Bahá’ís, as part of the world community, need to play their part in actively promoting sustainable “Social and Economic Development”. Throughout the world, in thousands of different communities – and including, of course the United Kingdom - the Bahá’ís have been setting up children’s classes based on moral education, and Junior Youth Empowerment Programmes. In these, junior youth from eleven to fifteen years of age work on a programme which aims to empower them to take their lives under their own control, even in challenging circumstances. Self-worth and consideration for others are developed, along with a realisation that even at their age they can begin to take part in positive service projects. In the United Kingdom, these may be cleaning up a park or a beach, providing food for the needy, organising social events for a neighbourhood and so on. In other countries, it could involve tree-planting, starting up a rudimentary waste collection service, or similar enterprises.

A startling proof of the efficacy of this programme showed up on the island of Tanna, in Vanuatu. This part of the South Pacific occasionally suffers from cyclones, and that of 2015 devastated the island, destroying nearly every building. As is normal in these circumstances, the people felt initially unable to do anything to improve their lot, but the young people who had been through the Junior Youth Empowerment Programme rapidly organised themselves and began to take decisions as to what actions to take, and in what order. Their experience of working on previous projects had shown to them that you need to have a vision that you can achieve something, and then arise to take the first step, the second step, the third… Gradually, the rest of the population began to follow the lead of these young people, who were by themselves clearing debris from the roads, starting to rebuild the houses of the most vulnerable, and so on.

In another example, this time in Tajikistan, a Bahá’í girl organised a group of Romany (Gypsy) teenage girls, and took them through the Junior Youth programme. Well before the end of it, the girls were saying how their horizons had been raised. Rather than remaining perpetually marginalised, they were resolving to go on to further education, raise their own status and make a contribution to the world!

Over and above the programmes for children and youth, some of the most common threads that run through Bahá’í Social and Economic Development (S.E.D.) programmes are: empowering women and promoting gender equality; mobile health clinics; education (at all levels); and encouraging low-tech enterprises.

Around the world, there are over 600 ongoing Bahá’í S.E.D. projects, and several thousand projects of shorter duration. These include tutorial schools in villages which previously had no schooling; Bahá’í radio stations which disseminate social and spiritual programmes alongside agricultural advice; and FUNDAEC, which is a distance learning programme run from Colombia. A spokesman for one of the Bahá’í-inspired organisations which helps with the setting up of rural schools in Africa explained that they do not see their efforts as the solution for all the educational needs, but that it enables people to be raised up from within the community who can lead development processes in their own community.

In India, the Barli Development Institute for Rural Women trains women from marginalised tribes and less developed villages in literacy, more effective agricultural practices and in crafts which they can then use to generate income for their villages. The same institute has also developed solar-powered cookers, which can be constructed from old oil drums, and which take away the constant search for fuel. This endless search for firewood is, in many countries, a major cause of the perpetual degradation of the environment. In the Bahá’í view, all of these challenges have to be taken together: “We need a change of heart, a reframing of all our conceptions and a new orientation of our activities. The inward life of man as well as his outward environment have to be reshaped.” As a small example, around the new Bahá’í Houses of Worship in both Chile and Colombia there are now plantings of native vegetation, to encourage the regeneration of the local wildlife.

Helena’s blog highlighted the Setsembiso Sebunye Foundation in Swaziland, which helps local communities to found rural pre-schools. Another project supported by BASED-UK is the Bayan Association in Honduras. The Association has set up a Community Banking Scheme, which enables the community to offer small loans to individuals, so that they can start small businesses or enterprises. The money raised by BASED-UK pays for the training of the organisers, and thereafter the bank is self-supporting. As Abdu’l-Bahá put it: “The Lord of all mankind hath fashioned this human realm to be a Garden of Eden, an earthly paradise. If, as it must, it findeth the way to harmony and peace, to love and mutual trust, it will become a true abode of bliss, a place of manifold blessings and unending delights. Therein shall be revealed the excellence of humankind.”

Why wait for the future, when we can help it come?

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If you would like to help with children’s classes or the junior youth programme, please get in touch with your local Bahá’ís if you know how. Otherwise, visit www.bahai.org . Likewise, anyone can contribute to BASED-UK’s projects, by visiting www.baseduk.org 






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